Winter blooms add color

THE OLYMPIANJanuary 11, 2012 

The third week of January is the start of the gardening season – yep, the Tacoma Home and Garden Show will be Jan. 25-29 followed by the Northwest Flower and Garden Show Feb. 8-12, and then a bumper crop of garden shows, plant sales and blooming celebrations to welcome the growing season of 2012.

So what’s happening in the garden in the midst of winter’s dark days? The joy of the winter garden celebrates hellebores, heathers and snowdrop bulbs with signs of spring popping up all over.

If your own landscape looks bleak this time of year, consider adding these bloomers to brighten a January day:

Hellebores: The Lenten Rose or Christmas Rose

Now here’s a perennial that has gone from obscurity to super-stardom without even having its own reality show. Hellebores are woodland plants that happen to love growing in Western Washington and are even slug, deer and freeze resistant. Add to this the fact that they thrive in the shade of cedar and fir trees and you’ve got the perfect performer for your Northwest winter garden.

It is all the new varieties that have made this old-fashioned cottage garden plant suddenly Twitter-worthy and Facebook-proud. A variety named Jacob has pure-white blooms that fade to green and this proud winter bloomer holds its blossoms on upright stems rather than nodding downward like most hellebores. Another early-blooming hellebore is called Ivory Prince and bloomed for seven months in a container garden on my front porch.

You don’t even need a garden to enjoy the blooms of Jacob the hellebore this January. Local growers have discovered that this perennial does well indoors as a temporary houseplant. Snatch one up at a local nursery, watch the blooms unfold and enjoy the gentle fragrance. Once the flowers are done you can add this hellebore to a shaded part of the garden or if you don’t have a garden of your own, offer the plant to someone that does.

Heathers:

You can enjoy drifts of color from winter-blooming heather and these low shrubby plants will even bloom again in the summer if you remember to shear off their spent blooms right after they flower.

The secret to growing great heather is to keep the fibrous root system from rotting by not planting them too deep. Don’t use a mulch up near the crown of the plants and make sure new heather plants get plenty of water the first summer they are in the ground.

When it comes to adding winter-blooming heather to the landscape the best advice is to visit garden centers in winter and pick out plants in full bloom. Heather propagates easily and new varieties are introduced each year.

The tiny leaves and microscopic flowers make this evergreen shrub easy to ignore unless you plant it in the landscape in groups of five to seven or add your winter-blooming heather to patio pots near the house.

Winter Blooming Bulbs:

Snowdrop, crocus and dwarf daffodils are all peeking up from the ground this month. If you want a closer look at these delicate beauties, dig the bulbs from the ground now, set the plant, roots, bulbs and all into a teacup with a bit of soil and enjoy a tiny garden on your tabletop.

In Europe the nurseries sell bags of moss to drape on top of indoor winter bulbs while they are in flowers. After you fool Mother Nature and force the bulbs to bloom early indoors, you can return the spent bulb, foliage and all to its planting hole outside and the spent bulb will live to flower again next winter.

All Together Now:

Add some winter color to your planters, window boxes and front-entry garden with a combination of hellebores, heathers and winter blooming bulbs. Poke in some stems of pussy willow or cut branches of winter greens for a back drop of more color and you’ll have a beautiful cure for cabin fever.

Marianne Binetti is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and eight other gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture from WSU and will answer questions from her Web site at www.binettigarden.com.

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